Rendering crews call into action
Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls and JBS USA in Worthington stopped processing pork last month after coronavirus outbreaks spread rapidly among their workers.
But when that happened, it interrupted a 40,000 hogs per day processing chain that left pork growers scrambling to find other outlets for their market-ready animals.
While some growers trucked product to other more distant facilities, and some tried to delay growth, still tens of thousands of hogs are being euthanized in light of no other options.
Dennis Klarenbeek of D&J Trucking and Rendering saw it coming.
“For three weeks we weren’t hauling many live animals,” said Klarenbeek, who typically trucks up to 15 loads of cattle per week to JBS in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “But they closed down, too.”
And then, last week rendering business started picking up.
“We did nine semi loads this past week, and it’s just getting going,” he said Sunday. “My (livestock) guys weren’t doing anything, so we started them up.”
On his first stop Wednesday, they picked up 4,800 hogs that had been euthanized, and there have been several other loads since then. “Our rendering plants can only handle so much volume, and we still have to keep up with our regular volume,” Klarenbeek said.
He said Klarenbeek and Son typically hauls 450,000 to 500,000 pounds per week, but the demand for rendering services is maxing out the 1.2 million pounds per week capacity in Blue Earth.
It’s unclear what the options will be for disposing euthanized livestock (composting, landfilling, burying) if rendering plants can’t keep up.
“They’re lining us up with the plant managers and they’ll tell us when to pick up,” Klarenbeek said. “This has never been done before, and they warned me going into this that it wouldn’t be over right away. … It’s going to keep going on for awhile.”
He said he hopes the meat processing plants can start up again soon to prevent wasting so much food.
“I don’t think they should have completely shut down,” he said. “This is a big, big deal for the farmers in our communities.”
Smithfield in Sioux Falls partially reopened Monday with 250 workers (of its original 3,700 workforce) starting two departments.
JBS in Worthington, meanwhile, has reopened with nearly 20 of its 2,000 workers assisting with euthanizing pigs – up to 13,000 per day.
In his 35 years in the rendering business, Klarenbeek has dealt with sudden spikes of dead livestock in emergency situations like heat waves or outbreaks of illness, but never with healthy animals.
“It’s pretty grim. I don’t know how else to put it,” he said. “It’s not fun. Especially when you’re taking good animals and sending them to waste.”
Farmers have donated hogs to food banks that can get the animals slaughtered, and some have taken to social media to sell animals.
Minnesota has many small meat lockers that are stepping up to process excess pork, but they are getting backed up, too.
S&S Locker Service in Hills is booked into September, and others around the state are into January. (See the related meat locker story.)